Car encyclopedia

Technical Service Bulletin or Recall?


Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) are used by technicians to effectively repair common problems. Manufacturers are not required to notify owners of TBSs related to their vehicle.

Recalls are government mandated safety-related repairs. The manufacturers do their best to notify all owners of affected vehicles of any recall.

For TSB and recall information related to your vehicle, please click here>>

Technical Service Bulletins
All manufacturers publish Technical Service Bulletins in order to alert service technicians of potential problems and their solutions. In most cases, TSBs have been given the go-ahead to be published by the manufacturer's legal department.

In an effort to provide service information as quickly as possible to their service technicians, some manufacturers will provide information not yet available to the general public. This "pre-TSB" information has not yet been reviewed by their legal department and is often in its rawest form. While TSBs are meant for the general repair industry, along with dealer technicians, pre-TSB information is intended for use by top level dealer technicians. It is a constant battle between the engineers, who would like to get the repair information into the technician's hands, and the legal department, who wants to make sure all the legal issues are covered first.

Recalls
A recall is the result of an investigation of a safety-related defect. The investigation into such defects can be a result of consumer complaints or repair data from vehicle manufacturers. The manufacturers are required by law to inform the government of safety-related defects in a reasonable amount of time or face fines (like Toyota did in early 2010 for its slow response to their sudden acceleration issue).

Vehicle manufacturers play a leading role in the recall process—most decisions to conduct a recall are made voluntarily by manufacturers prior to any involvement by NHTSA. Through their own tests, inspection procedures, and information-gathering systems, manufacturers often discover that a safety defect exists or that the requirements of a federal safety standard have not been met. However, over time, design and performance problems may occur that prompt vehicle owners to file complaints with NHTSA. This information is passed along to the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) and is used as part of their investigation.

The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). ODI conducts defect investigations and administers safety recalls. As part of its investigation, ODI carefully reviews consumer complaints, manufacturers repair information, and other available data in order to determine if a defect trend exists. They will initiate a recall if the evidence warrants such action. ODI also monitors the adequacy of manufacturers recall campaigns.

A safety-related defect is defined by the United States Code of Motor Vehicle Safety as:

"The performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risk of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes nonoperational safety of a motor vehicle." A defect includes "any defect in performance, construction, a component, or material of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment."

Generally, a safety defect is defined as a problem that exists in a motor vehicle or item of motor vehicle equipment that poses a risk to motor vehicle safety, and may exist in a group of vehicles of the same design or manufacturer, or items of equipment of the same type and manufacturer.

Examples of Safety-Related Defects

  • Steering components that break suddenly, causing partial or complete loss of vehicle control
  • Problems with fuel system components, particularly in their susceptibility to crash damage, that result in leakage of fuel and could possibly cause vehicle fires
  • Accelerator controls that may break or stick
  • Wheels that crack or break, resulting in loss of vehicle control
  • Engine cooling fan blades that break unexpectedly, causing injury to persons working on a vehicle
  • Windshield wiper assemblies that fail to operate properly
  • Seats and/or seat backs that fail unexpectedly during normal use
  • Critical vehicle components that break, fall apart, or separate from the vehicle, causing potential loss of vehicle control or injury to persons inside or outside the vehicle
  • Wiring system problems that result in a fire or loss of lighting
  • Airbags that deploy under conditions for which they are not intended to deploy

Examples of Non-Safety-Related Defects

  • Air conditioners and radios that do not operate properly
  • Ordinary wear of equipment that has to be inspected, maintained, and replaced periodically. Such equipment includes shock absorbers, batteries, brake pads and shoes, and exhaust systems.
  • Nonstructural or body panel rust
  • Quality of paint or cosmetic blemishes
  • Excessive oil consumption

If you would like to report a safety-related defect for your vehicle, please click here>>

Ask a Question Find a Shop
Featured Articles
Ask a Question